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Shapeways in 2014: A Year in 3D Printing and What’s Next for 2015

In 2014, 3D printing was programmed into intricate soft-goods and embedded in your favorite software. It augmented the big brands you love and built new brands from scratch. It fueled Meme Mania, reigned supreme in responsive gadget accessory design, and was showcased at MoMA. From supermodels to SuperFanArt, 2014 was the year 3D printing went to infinity and beyond — literally, there’s now a 3D printer in space!

In 2014 the Shapeways community grew and we now have designers from 133 different countries. With nearly 500,000 Shapies, 23,000 Shop Owners and products shipped to over 140 countries, Shapeways and our community power not only the largest, but the widest reaching 3D printing service and marketplace.

Markets underserved by mass manufacturing flourish in our supply-meets-demand marketplace, allowing for product creation the world has never seen before. Responsively designed gadget accessories, custom jewelry, unbelievable miniatures and creative fan art saw the biggest rise this year. Here’s a roundup of our big picture thoughts on 2014 and predictions for the new year.

Notable Highlights from 2014

  1. Material Innovations: Wait, That is 3D Printed?
  2. The Transition from Prototyping to Complete Product Design
  3. 3D Printing is Niche-Tastic, Big Brands Want to Harness its Power Too
  4. Improving Production Capabilities
  5. Out of This World & Unexpected Applications: Fashion, Apps & Education

 

Material Innovations: Wait, That is 3D Printed?

3D printing is only as great as the materials you can use. In 2014, we saw companies big and small continue to innovate and introduce new materials that elevated what designers could make. We are constantly asking our community what they want and pushing the material boundaries to give you the best. We’re hearing more and more that Shapeways shoppers don’t even realize the products are 3D printed!

It’s not just drones we’ve been piloting, but materials too. From precious metals to beautiful porcelain, the materials are getting better and better:

  • Metals were a game-changer this year. We introduced Platinum, 18k & 14k Gold, 14k Rose Gold and 14k White Gold, enabling jewelers to create high-quality products without having to keep any inventory. The custom engagement rings we’ve seen have been incredible!

  • For the even more serious jeweler, we introduced Castable Wax. This has enabled creative casts that have been simply stunning.

  • We have been working on the R&D to 3D print Porcelain for over a year, and recently launched our pilot program. We’re excited to innovate with our community to introduce a high quality material to the world.

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  • Full Color Plastic – In another feat of community R&D, we launched full color plastic in a pilot including hundreds of Shapeways designers. Your feedback is guiding this materials’ development as we learn more about it.

  • Also worth mentioning is the new printer HP introduced, which promises to deliver full-color products faster and at a better price. Shapeways is part of their Open Customer Engagement Program, and we are proud to host their printer in our factory to test out its capabilities. The fact that a Fortune 50 company chose us to work with and has has invested so much R&D in 3D printing signals that we’re likely to see a lot more innovation in the years to come.

What does this mean for 2015?

  • As material costs go down and quality continues to rise, we’ll see more and more 3D printed products, in stores and online.

  • Even more materials will hit the market, piloted and tested by the Shapeways community, and this will open up new product categories and designs that were never possible before.

  • While everybody might not get a 3D printer for themselves, we will see a 3D printed product in every home. From home decor to gadget accessories, everybody will be using 3D printed products in their daily life.

The Transition from Prototyping to Complete Product Design

3D printing is what makes rapid innovation possible. Before, this type of iteration was only available to prototyping industries historically limited to companies with large budgets. Now, with the rise of accessible 3D modeling software and Shapeways 3D printing services, anyone can take a product to market. Here are some examples of trends we saw in the prototyping and product development space this year:

  • Our marketplace reached 20,000 shops in September! Now, at over 23,000 this means that literally thousands of entrepreneurs are running their business and introducing products on Shapeways!

  • We launched Beta Products to help designers connect with customers, get feedback and tweak their final products based on customer needs and wants. Products like this Moto G phone case to hold a diabetes monitor and bhold sound pod are perfect examples.

  • In 2014 we really saw more educators take the step to introduce 3D printing into their curriculum from desktop 3D printers in schools to courses being offered at university. Our educational program has thousands of students and educators using 3D printing to bring their ideas to life. What may be prototypes now are the products of the future.

What does this mean for 2015?

  • Just as updates to software have become instantaneous (remember when “updates” were CD’s you had buy?), changes and improvements to physical products will happen far more quickly. As a result, traditional seasons and launch cycles will be disrupted.

  • Products developed based on user needs. Real-time responsive iteration after launch will allow designers to improve upon their products with the input of their friends, fans and customers.

  • Larger brands will start to realize that customers want more than what is offered. Companies making consumer products will see their customers turning to more customized products and investigate ways, like 3D printing, to solve this need.

3D Printing is Niche-Tastic, Big Brands Want to Harness its Power Too

2014 was a breakout year for brands on Shapeways, both those powered by our Shop Owners and partnerships with Fortune 100s. We were elated to see how many major brands really dove head first into 3D printing to extend their product offering and co-create with their customers. When brands listen to their fans and we create on demand, everyone wins. Here at Shapeways, here are some of the initiatives we saw have the most impact:

  • Hasbro Opened its IP Allowing for epic Super Fan Art, becoming the first global brand to do so and allowed designers to create their own custom versions of beloved Hasbro characters. Currently, designers can create products directly inspired by My Little Pony, Transformers, G.I. Joe, Monopoly and Scrabble. We look forward to continuing and expanding this partnership in the future.

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  • Adobe integrated Shapeways into Photoshop in the Creative Cloud

  • This summer, we worked with Google on their Made with Code initiative to empower young girls. Hundreds of thousands of young women (and men) created a custom bracelet and had their first maker experience, leveraging code and 3D printing at the same time. The bracelets were all 3D printed in our NYC factory and we hope they inspired thousands of young designers.

  • Just in time for the holidays, Target introduced a limited-edition collection of 3D printed pendants, rings and more through their Target Shapeways Shop. This marked the first time a large retailer designed, marketed and sold 3D printed products.

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  • About.com lent us experts from 10 of their verticals and curated a fabulous list for the home. We hope to see more guest collaborations like this from other visually and content diverse friends.

  • Future Engineers chose us as a partner for producing 3D “ground prints” of winning tools from a contest challenging kids to design tools for astronauts in space. Not only are we empowering folks on earth, but in space as well!

Some brands are still catching up, but in the meantime we’re seeing notable consumer-driven innovation around popular products. Shapeways top sellers include modifiers for drones, GoPros, Jawbone, FitBit, iPhone, Raspberry Pi, Arduino, and a whole suite of popular consumer electronics. Fans aren’t willing to wait for for others to come out with the accessory or add-ons of their dreams, and they don’t need to thanks to 3D printing.

What does this mean for 2015?

  • Many more brands will consider how 3D printing fits into their customer engagement strategy. They can open up the conversation around product development, iterate in real time with their customers and grow their business as a result.

  • By the end of the year, innovative brands will have a 3D printing line item in their budget.

  • Brands with IP will take note from Hasbro and will hopefully open up their IP to enable 3D printed fan art rather than try to squash it.

Improving Production Capabilities

Manufacturing with 3D printing has evolved in leaps and bounds over the last decade, and new capabilities are being introduced on a consistent basis. In 2014, we continued to improve our production capabilities and grow our capacity to meet the needs of our community.

  • We opened the doors to our brand new factory in Eindhoven during Dutch Design Week. The new space now accommodates the explosive growth we’ve seen over the past few years and enables us to create even more of the amazing products that come through our printers every day.

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What does this mean for 2015?

  • We’ll continue to make continuous improvements and breakthrough innovations in our production to enable designers to create amazing products that are more affordable for consumers to buy.

  • Lead times will continue to decrease and designs will come to life even faster.

  • Across the 3D printing industry, advancements in production will translate to advancements in additional fields, such as medicine, design, education and more.

 

Out of This World & Unexpected Applications: Fashion, Apps & Education

From 3D printing in space to Santa’s belt buckle, we saw some mind blowing inventions and innovations from the Shapeways community in 2014. 3D printing enables endless possibilities, and these dreams became a reality.

  • We’ve been reaching for the stars and thinking what we can create among them ever since being inspired by the the actual 3D printer that was sent into space in September, marking the beginning of manufacturing in space. While we wait to see what is possible, we’ve been working with Future Engineers, ASME and Made in Space empowering kids to design tools that can be printed and used in space.

  • We saw an explosion in wearable tech accessories, including the introduction of wearable bands, cases and fitness accessories. We had iPhone cases before the 6 was even on shelves, Moto 360 bumpers before Best Buy, and Microsoft Band Stand’s before Microsoft realized consumers wanted them.

  • The fashion industry saw 3D printing in a whole new way this year. Everybody wants to know when they will be able to proudly wear a 3D printed shirt, and while we’re not quite there yet we are SO close: Fashion Weeks around the world saw 3D printed clothes walk down the runway, thanks to designers like Katya Leonovich, Bradley Rothenberg and Iris van Herpen.

  • Accessories merging form and function became more customized as apps like Normal came to market. The first to scan the ear and face, Normal configures customized headphones that will actually stay in your ears.

  • Over the summer, in partnership with Eyebeam Art and Technology Center, Shapeways supported the first-ever group of Computational Fashion Masterclass Students. The finished designs from that class were displayed during Fashion Week in September.

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  • Most recently, design studio Nervous System introduced the first-ever wearable dress that was 3D printed in one piece. The design and final product are so impressive, the Museum of Modern Art has acquired it for their permanent collection!

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What does this mean for 2015?

  • Intense product innovation. There is less holding designers back and 2015 will be the year we see more 3D printed wearables, medical devices, tools for the kitchen and more.

  • Customers won’t settle for “one size fits all” accessories. Headphones, phone cases and other personal accessories will become customized to fit a specific person’s needs.

  • The manufacturing of 3D printed goods will step up more than ever before. As designers looks to create products that will appeal to a broader audience (like clothes, headphones, etc.), they will need a more efficient process that allows their designs to be created quickly and be less expensive than before.

Whew! 2014 was quite the year, but we’re so excited to see what 2015 has in store. Stay tuned on the blog for more roundups from 2014 and insights into next year.

While there is much for us to recap at the end of every year, it’s really an opportunity for all of us to reflect on how amazing our community is. YOU are what make Shapeways possible and it’s YOU we are most grateful for this holiday season. We would love know, as we’ve already shared a few, what are your favorite memories from 2014? What are your goals for 2015? We’re all ears and printers! 

This post was made possible by the entire team at Shapeways, especially Mansee, Lauren, Carine and Savannah.

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